Friday, June 22, 2012

My Warhammer 40k Experiences

Torrens Purgare - The Leaders: Scout Sergeant, Devastator Squad Sergeant,
Tactical Squad Leader, Tactical Squad Sergeant, Apothecary
I read recently that there's a new 6th Edition of Warhammer 40k coming out soon. This, plus the 40k one-shot RPG game that my friend Jeff Franz has been threatening to run for the past few months has had me thinking about my previous experience with playing 40k - specifically, the miniatures war game.

Back in the early 90s, I went through a bit of a gaming rediscovery. I had been out of gaming for a bit, having not found a good role-playing group. I'd kept up a bit during this lag by reading Dragon and following a bit what was going on in 2nd Edition AD&D, but for the most part, I'd stopped playing any kind of games. 

Around this time, I got laid off from my first job out of college - an ad agency gig at a place called Foote, Cone & Belding. They let me go the day before Halloween, and I knew that I was going to have trouble finding a job during the 4th Quarter because few companies hire during that time. Most of them are trying to save money from October - December, not spend it.  In any event, I did hit the pavement to try to find another job, but was unsuccessful until the end of January of the following year.  During my three-month downtime, I re-discovered my love of games, particularly Magic: The Gathering, which had just come out and also Warhammer 40k.

The Captain. This was a conversion
I did. That flag and his checker-
board shoulder armor were a
total pain.
One of my closest friends at the time worked in the grocery business, but on the night shift, so he would come over to my parents' place during the day, where I still lived at home.

[As an aside, one thing you would need to know about advertising is that the pay is completely dismal for junior-level employees, so most people advertising I knew back then either lived at home and had money to go out and afford a car payment, or they squeezed into an overpriced Westside apartment with three friends and had to eat peanut butter sandwiches every day.]

So my buddy Mike would come over to my parents' place, where he introduced me to MTG and also 40k. I'd never played a miniatures wargame before, but I remember having seen ads for it and I knew a little about the setting. Mike taught me the rules and I quickly bought the main rulebook and some figures on my rapidly filling-up credit card, and we spend almost the entirety of the next three months painting figures and talking about how cool our armies were going to be. 

Mike was an incredibly quick, and talented, painter and in what seemed like no time, he had several different armies all painted up - Space Marines, Chaos Marines, some Tyrannids and Genestealers, and Eldar.

Display Case: In Front - Devastator Squad and Apothecary.
Behind - Various unpainted Space Marines.
I chose Space Marines and decided to create my own chapter, as this process seemed to somewhat satisfy my lack of role-playing. By creating my own chapter, I could develop their history, the names and backgrounds of the key personnel, their color scheme, and everything else that went along with it. 

I named my guys the "Torrens Purgare", which was a vague attempt at a semi-Latin sounding name that I translated as "The Storm that Purges." The different divisions were Tacticus (tactical), Devastare (devastators), and Terminare (terminators). I didn't have any assasult troops, so I never translated that, and I eventually did have some scouts and a dreadnaught, but by that time I'd kind of given up on the faux-Latin thing. 

The Display Case (actually an
old watch display case from a
grocery store).
I can't seem to find all of my background notes, but I do remember that I had them as an offshoot of the Dark Angels, which I thought was a pretty cool chapter back then. When the different Space Marine chapter books came out, I bought them all, and I remember being annoyed that the Ultramarines and Space Wolves came out first, and then for some reason they combined the Blood Angels and the Dark Angels into one book, even though the chapters were totally different. 

I also picked up a bunch of painting guides and one really cool book on how to do custom conversions - like sawing off pieces from one miniatures to attach to another. I really loved that book - it had some really awesome customized figures, and I even tried my hand at it, going to far as to get a pin drill and a bunch of different saws and a vice and all that. My painting jobs were slow and tedious and I never did quite get a handled on mixing my paint so that it wasn't gloppy.  But, I did like the process of painting - even after going back to work full-time and eventually moving out of the house, I brought my miniatures and paints with me, and would stay up late at night after work to paint. I found it very soothing and relaxing - while painting something that small, you get so focused that you can entirely forget that you hate your boss or that the rent is due. 

My old-school Dreadnaught
At one time I was so into painting that when traveling for business, I would bring a small padded container of figures with me, along with files, paints, and brushes, and carry it onto the plane with me. I always got stopped, but this was way before 9/11, so I was allowed to bring the files onto the plane. I figured out later that the screeners stopped me mainly because they were curious about what was inside more than actually thinking that I was trying to bring something on the plane that I shouldn't have been.

Once i got to my hotel, I would set up my figures and paints on the desk and after either ordering room service or eating dinner in the hotel bar, I'd stay up late again watching TV and painting my Space Marines. 

One thing that I didn't like about Warhammer 40k was the actual game play, however. I found setting up the figures to get ready for a battle to be very tedious, and also something that, if you didn't do it often (which I didn't), meant that you could totally make mistakes that meant your army was going to suck. Then, as how, I had a tendency to go for armies (or PCs, or NPCs, or cards, etc.) that looked cool or sounded cool or had a theme, versus something that was going to be effective.

Close-Up of Scout Sergeant
The last time that I actually played 40k, it took us over 45 minutes to set up the terrain and our armies, and after the first turn I was so far out of the game that there was no way I was going to recover.  Around this time, the edition of the game changes, and Games Workshop came out with all sorts of new, fancy figures for every single type of character in the game. In the "old days", if you wanted a Space Marine Apothecary, you grabbed a tactical marine, painted him white, and you were good to go. Now they had a separate Apothecary figure, and while at the time I thought it was cool, after a little while I kind of decided that I hated the constant changing of the figures and I missed some of the more "wild and wooly" days where players had to be a big more creative in crafting a specific figure for their armies. I guess it's probably a bit like what OSR types feel about the more modern versions of D&D - too many splatbooks and not enough "make it up as you go along."

Despite my dislike of the game, I love the setting and I still like the idea of painting figures, even though all of my miniatures are back at my parents' house. I went there a few weeks ago and snapped the photos I've posted here, mainly because there was some talk for a while that I might try to play one of the Torrens Purgare in Jeff's 40k game.  I've decided to play a straight-up Dark Angel instead, and I'm really looking forward to diving back into the 40k universe in a role-playing game rather than a wargame.  I'll post about the results after the game happens. 

Tech Marine on Bike
What are your experiences with playing 40k and painting miniatures in general?

Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Listening: "Mean to Me" (Etta Jones)
Drinking: We're having some tasty Zinfandel with dinner, and I'm considering what kind of pre-dinner cocktail I'm going to make. I'm thinking a martini, which of course is always made with gin. A "vodka martini" is not a martini. It's called a kangaroo (not kidding) and if you drink that, you should really just cowboy up and have a real martini.

Scout Squad with Captain.
In the back on the right, you can see part of my Dark Elf Bloodbowl team.

Tactical Squad.
In the back, you can see part of my Skaven Bloodbowl team.
Terminator Squad in various stages of painting.
Imperial Assassin. My buddy Mike
painted this for me as a gift one year.
You can get a sense of how much better
he is at painting than I am.


  1. And a cantaloupe in the US is really a musk mellon everywhere else, but good luck changing that one.

    1. The difference here is that both "cantaloupe" and "muskmelon" are accepted terms for the same thing, along with "mushmelon," "rockmelon," "Persian melon," and "spanspek."

      However, "The martini is a cocktail made with gin and vermouth, and garnished with an olive or a lemon twist."

      Yes, you can drink a vodka martini but it's not a true "martini" and it's actually technically called a "kangaroo."

      By the way, do you know why vodka is so popular in American culture now? It had been a dismal failure when first introduced here. It has to do with prohibition and alcohol rationaining around World War II. After Prohibition ended, distillers began to freak out because they realized that they didn't have a large store of aged spirits left. America's favorites at that time were whiskies and bourbons. Both of those require aging. So, after World War II, distillers invented "blended whiskey" by blending a little aged whiskey with grain-neutral spirits. Then they pitched a new idea - the "highball" - mixing blended whiskey in a tall glass with soda or ginger ale.

      Then they found an ethnic spirit that required no aging and had pretty much no flavor - vodka. Nobody knew quite what to do with it. Originally it was just mixed with gin, which just "covered up" the vodka.

      Then they decided it could be used instead of gin, and they went into marketing over-drive.

      However, what the liquor industry didn't realize was that by doing this, they were changing American palates. Americans took to blended whiskey and vodka, but in so doing, they completely lost the taste for aged alcohol, or really any alcohol at all. How many times have you heard someone at a bar say that they want a drink that "doesn't taste like alcohol." People drink cosmopolitans because, essentially, it tastes like cranberry juice. The desire with drinking has become for the effect, not the flavor.

      This change into not liking the taste of hard alcohol was also responsible for things like "light beer" with a lower alcohol percentage, and the era of tall, bland, sweet drinks, which is still hanging on today in most American bars and restaurants.

  2. I've also just posted about this! I got out of Warhammer 40,000 for similar reasons to yourself; the third edition invalidated my armies and I didn't have the money or time to start all over again. Unlike you, I enjoyed playing the game -- I was at one point very good at it, but I suspect that was more to do with an unbalanced Genestealer army list than skill -- but I hated the painting side as I was not very good at that at all!

    A number of friends have shown some interest in playing, so I'm going to put together an Eldar army. It will be small, as I don't want to make a huge investment, and I'm going to base it on the models I like rather than any sense of the best tactical options; I want it to look good, even if it doesn't play well!

    1. Very cool, Kelvin - I actually saw your post yesterday morning after I wrote mine.

      I really hated the whole bit about 3rd Edition invalidating previous army choices - I remember my friend basically scrapping his very cool Genestealer army because of this, and I kept thinking, "Why don't we just use the same rules we've been using?"

      I'm totally with you on wanting an army to "look good, even if it doesn't play well!"

      That's the reason behind my dismal failure at "Magic: the Gathering" as well - I was always more taken by the story that the cards were telling and the art on them than I was by the mechanical implications, and my desk-building suffered greatly because of it.

    2. "Why don't we just use the same rules we've been using?"

      It's strange, but it never occurred to me at the time to just carry on playing with the armies and rules I had. In hindsight, that was a ridiculous attitude to have; it's not as if I was playing in Games Workshop itself, or attending tournaments, so there was no reason why I needed to "upgrade". I'll be quite happy to take this new Eldar army and play any edition, new or old.


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